Big weekend ahead and big players looked to to step up

GAA: Casey's Call

Up and over: Ballintubber will be looking to the likes of Cillian O'Connor to lead them this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Up and over: Ballintubber will be looking to the likes of Cillian O'Connor to lead them this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

The fixtures' makers have decided to run a senior and an intermediate semi final side by side next Saturday and Sunday - which is a novel idea - but strange at the same time.

I'd imagine supporters of any of the eight teams involved would prefer to have a closer look at teams in their grade and potential county final opponents rather than teams playing in a completely different competition. Certainly, most supporters of the winning teams from Saturday's intermediate and senior semi-final will want to attend Sunday's games to see who they'll be playing in the final. Maybe there lies the logic in the decision- to put bums on seats.

Ballintubber and Castlebar Mitchels are warm favourites to make it through to the senior final but I'm not so sure it's going to be that straightforward. Both contests are very evenly matched up in my opinion. Ballina face county champions Ballintubber at 7.30pm on Saturday evening. On the back of their impressive quarter final win over Breaffy, Ballina have nothing to lose and will enter this game fearless as they did against Breaffy.

Ballina's work ethic and ability to snuff out their opponents biggest threats seems to be their best attribute. They look like a team that will die with their boots on. In Padraig O'Hora they have a player who relishes a challenge. The bigger the name the more he seems to enjoy it so I'll presume he will be in close contact with Diarmuid O'Connor in the semi final.

The Stephenites are a nicely balanced team and can call on county experience in almost every line. Wing back David O'Mahoney had a superb game against Breaffy, thundering forward on every occasion he could and will need monitoring by the Ballintubber defensive unit. The fitness status of Evan Regan and particularly Ger Cafferkey is crucial to Ballina's chances. Caff' limped heavily off the field in extra time against Breaffy, which is a cause for concern. If fit, his duel with Cillian O'Connor will be decisive in deciding who makes the final.

It's 2007 since Ballina have been in a final and their involvement at this stage brings a freshness to the competition, despite them leading the roll of honour with 36 county senior titles to their name. Let's face it though, they're not exactly dealing with mugs in Ballintubber. They are after all county champions for a reason. They have become experts at grinding teams down and grinding out results, not always pretty but effective.

In fairness it is the result that counts. They too have county talent on almost every line. This game is far from straightforward for Kevin Johnson's team who will need to call on all their big game experience but don’t be surprised if there is a shock on the cards in this one.

The second senior semi final on Sunday is also difficult to call. Castlebar Mitchels certainly seem to have gone back a bit. I was fully convinced with the addition of Donie Vaughan they would be unstoppable in Mayo and that they would go on to challenge Corofin for provincial honours, but it hasn't worked out like that.

They are not playing with the swagger, fluidity and ruthlessness of yesteryear, which will give hope to Ballaghadeereen and instill belief that they too can cause an upset. Ballagh' are also able to call on county experience throughout their lines. In Seamus Cunniffe and David Drake you won't get too many better full-backs. Whichever of them shadows Neil Douglas for the duration and how they cope could ultimately decide the result.

Ballagh' looked very impressive in their quarter final against Davitts while Castlebar struggled for long periods against Knockmore. The quality of both their opponents in the last eight of course has to be considered. Ballaghadeereen are getting better game by game and with Andy Moran in your team you'll always have a chance. I'm going out on a limb, as long as all their main players are fit I'm tipping a Ballina and Ballaghadeereen county final. It's 17/2 for that to occur if you're wondering.

Congratulations to our four All-Star nominees, Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle Paddy Durcan and Aidan O'Shea. The make-up of our nominations obviously suggests we were more than capable of coping defensively ( heavy defeats to Kerry and Dublin would suggest otherwise ) and that we struggled up front with not a single nomination for any Mayo forward.

Injuries throughout the year would have had a big bearing also, especially when you consider Cillian O'Connor missed a large chunk of the season and his brother Diarmuid got injured at the wrong time when the championship was in full flow, missing some crucial games.

Had Darren Coen maintained his early summer form throughout the season he too would have been considered. Dublin, with 13 nominations will deservedly make up the bulk of the final 15, which leads me to think Paddy Durcan will be our sole representative on this year's team. Colm Boyle will feel hard done by as he was probably our most consistent player over the course of the year but in Mayo's three championship games against Galway, Donegal and Dublin- Paddy Durcan was a giant amongst men and I can't see Mayo players picking up two gongs.

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